WASHINGTON, D.C. – Years of waiting and advocacy have come to naught as the federal government pulled the plug on the FBI headquarters relocation project.
On Tuesday, the General Services Administration (GSA) announced it was canceling the 10-year search for a new headquarters for the national security agency due to concerns about the funding of the project.
“The fiscal year 2017 budget request included $1.4 billion for this project; however, the $523 million appropriated in 2017 leaves an $882 million funding gap,” the GSA said in a statement. “Moving forward without full funding puts the government at risk for cost escalations and the potential reduction in value of the J. Edgar Hoover property that developers were to receive as part of this procurement.”
The current FBI headquarters is located in downtown Washington, D.C., and would have been awarded to a developer chosen to build the new facility for private development as a land swap. Previously, GSA had narrowed the potential site for the new 2.1 million-square foot building to three, with two in Prince George’s County (Greenbelt or Landover). The third site is in Virginia.
Last week, a House of Representatives subcommittee voted for a fiscal year 2018 funding bill that cut $200 million in funds for the project, citing budget constraints that prevented Republicans in charge of the appropriations process from funding any new federal construction projects.
Garth Bell, project manager for the FBI project with Renard Development, which owns land at the Greenbelt site, said he was disappointed in the decision.
“I think it is very unfortunate that they felt the need to cancel the solicitation,” he said. “I think it creates a risk in the timing of getting the FBI into their new headquarters.”
Maryland’s representatives in Congress greeted the news with surprise and disappointment.
“This is an extremely alarming development,” said Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.-5). “By canceling the current FBI headquarters relocation procurement process, the (President Donald) Trump Administration and Republicans in Congress are putting the safety and security of our country at risk.”
Several members of the delegation said at a Tuesday afternoon press conference that they do not believe money is the real reason the project has been canceled.
“There is adequate revenues available, monies available even if Congress did not appropriate this cycle,” said Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin (D). “The reasons given for cancelation just aren’t true.”
He explained that more than $900 million has already been appropriated, and two separate committees had already authorized spending on the project. Cardin and Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) also worked to get language in the omnibus 2017 federal appropriations bill that stated Congress’ pledge to “provide funding in Fiscal Year 2018 for the project to proceed expeditiously.”
Van Hollen said delaying the construction of a new consolidated headquarters will cost more taxpayer dollars.
“This is also a big waste of taxpayer money to delay this decision. Right now, we’re going to have to be spending taxpayer money to put band aids on the current building to keep it operational and continue to pay leases on all the other buildings,” Van Hollen said.
The Congressmen also argued that local jurisdictions have put money and time into the project as well, and the decision is letting those partners down.
“We worked hard in the state of Maryland to ensure that the Transportation Trust Fund had resources to deliver the infrastructure regardless of the site that was chosen in Prince George's County,” said Rep. Anthony Brown (D-Md.-4).
Prince George’s County government has already spent approximately $1 million on efforts to bring the FBI here, said County Executive Rushern Baker, III. He called the decision to cancel the project “unacceptable.”
“We have done all that we can at the county level. We have done all that we can at the state level,” Baker said. “I call on the Trump Administration, I call on my colleagues to make them, quite honestly, reverse this decision. You have the money right there, now, to move forward.”
The Congressmen also put the blame on Trump for the decision, but Cardin refused to say it was a retaliatory move against the FBI from the administration, which is under investigation by the agency. And while some have said the lack of leadership at the FBI after director James Comey was fired and at GSA, whose administrator left when Barack Obama left office, may have contributed to the decision, Brown said he couldn’t speak to the motive behind the decision.
“I don’t know why the decision was made, but it’s a poor reflection on an administration that already has an image of poor leadership,” Brown said.
Beall said between his company, the bidders and the federal government, he estimated about $75 million had already been spent. He also said this cancelation could make developers wary of bidding on future federal projects.
“It creates real concerns for their ability to move forward on big projects like this,” he said. “The next one that comes up, I am not sure that bidders that bid in this would say, “let’s do this again.”
Brown called for a new plan for the consolidation of the headquarters to be submitted to Congress sooner rather than later, saying GSA shouldn’t “start from scratch.” Cardin said he and the rest of delegation have “leverage that will be used,” including members “who serve on very important committees” with oversight over federal budget and leases to get the decision reversed.
Brown said he wasn’t sure as of Tuesday whether the delegation would decide to push for more funding this budget cycle.
“I can’t say that we’ll be successful given the current decision by the GSA,” he said.